Leader Blues

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

TOP STORY>>Winter weather closes schools, causes wrecks

Leader staff writer

A six-vehicle pileup involving four 18-wheelers and two cars along Interstate 40 near Lonoke around 5 p.m. Tuesday closed the interstate for more than an hour. No one was killed, but there were injuries reported.

The threat of winter weather continued through Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

The National Weather Service called for below-freezing temperatures to hit the area Tuesday night along with up to an inch of freezing rain and snow possibly causing a multitude of problems this morning.

The weather service predicted that most drivers would encounter slushy roads again on Wednesday morning, but expect the bridges and overpasses to be dangerously icy. The winter weather hit the top one-third of the state pretty hard Monday and Tuesday. By late Tuesday, most of Springdale was without power.

From 3 p.m. Monday to 7 a.m. Tuesday, the State Police responded to 214 accidents or crashes, with 83 happening in central Arkansas.

So far, three individuals have died in two weather-related crashes: Two in a single crash in Pulaski County Tuesday morning and one in Benton County Monday afternoon. The state police have not released the names of those killed.

Even those responding to accidents Monday night to help ended up in accidents. The Jacksonville Fire Department had a fire truck and an ambulance slid into the rail while responding to help motorists stranded on I-440 and Hwy. 67/167 at the southern edge of Jacksonville, and then a state trooper’s vehicle slid into the fire truck. Luckily damage to all three vehicles was minimal.

Tuesday’s anticipated ice storm stayed about 20 miles farther north than expected and some warm air snuck in from Tennessee, raising area temperatures to 34 or 35 degrees for most of the day instead of the expected 29 to 30 degrees.

That meant fairly clear roads Tuesday morning, but Monday evening was a different story with the State Police in Troop A, which encompasses Pulaski, Lonoke and Faulkner counties, responding to 83 vehicle accidents.

“Our power outages are concentrated in the northern tier of Arkansas,” explained Rob Roedel, a spokesman for Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas. He said that about 100,000 cooperative members were without power by Tuesday afternoon.

Roedel added that 10 of the state’s 17 electric-distribution cooperatives have power outages, including First Electric.

First Electric Cooperative, which provides electricity for 84,000 customers in 17 counties in central and southeast Arkansas, had about 1,400 customers without power as of 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Most of those without power are in the communities of Brownsville, Drasco, Edgemont, Pangburn, Pearson, Rose Bud and Tannenbaum in Cleburne County. 

The winter storm closed the Pulaski County Special School District and other area schools on Tuesday.